The Gouge in the Table

Training - Day One

Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games

Warnings: Language, mention of death, brief violence (Training), mention if awkward womanly situations?

Note: I have nothing against Avoxes and respect them completely, but my Clove has a highly opinionated persona that has been influenced by those who make excuses for the Capitol, so to keep her in character I have to dabble with judgmental themes. I think most fan fiction writers are often conflicted, for they believe one side of a story and their character(s) do not (unless they choose to write about characters who completely agree with their views on life). I am a perfect example of a writer conflicted. Anyway, carry on.

Chapter Five

I wake up to what sounds like nails on a chalkboard, but is actually Amber's nails on my bedroom door. Last night, I checked to see if my door was solid wood, just to find it was of the ligneous variety (ligneous, as in "resembling wood"- like the doors of the train). I'm unimpressed and phenomenally displeased at the chalkboard-like sound that awakens me. Amber's obviously realised this is as good a technique as any to wake her tributes up over the years.

With nails that long, I suppose you've got to exploit them somehow.

Dragging myself out of bed, I skip the opportunity to take a shower. After last night's disastrous thirty minutes, I'd prefer not to be late to Training during another attempt. Instead, I turn to the pile of clothes on top of my wardrobe that I assume an Avox left out for me, stripping down and sliding into the garments. Avoxes are the servants that mill about, although we are never to speak to them. They can't speak to us, see. They've got no tongues. Of course, we don't have them in District Two, but I've heard about them from Trainers at the Centre, and the sort of crimes they committed to end up that way. Anyhow, they deserved to get their tongues cut out of their heads and be forced to live a life of servitude… and some deserved more than that, I feel. They're lucky they weren't executed!

The Training outfit is, to say the least, very form-fitting. I have a feeling the creator purposefully made it two sizes too small, and if that creator was Ivor, I am going to kill that man. It's fortunate he sleeps in his own apartment not far from the Training Centre, for if he slept in our flat, his eyes would have to remain open at all times just in case I got hold of a knife at two in the morning.

No question- I really, really hate that man.

Pulling my hair back into the traditional ponytail and securing it with a spare hair band, I continue to brush my teeth and wash my face thoroughly. I'll keep up with the personal hygiene while I can, thank you very much. Besides, I'm a teenage girl- if I don't wash my face it ends up being a disaster.

I slam open my door and journey towards the dining area, my combat boots making satisfying clunking sounds as they hit the polished floor. The scene that meets my eye upon entrance is as expected as aching muscles after a long day of free-style sparring: Evilian lecturing an edgy Cato about something or other while downing a glass of champagne; Benjamin cowering in the corner while shoving his face with an oversized cherry danish; Amber shooting anxious looks at the doorway every other second. When the latter quickly acknowledges my presence, she shoots to her feet so fast she nearly topples over from the height of her eight-inch heels.

"Well, look who finally arrived!" She exclaims disapprovingly, as if she expected me to be punctual. I stare defiantly up at her, taking in the sight of dark circles underneath a layer of heavy concealer and yellow irises that definitely weren't present yesterday. Either Amber was up all night attending parties for sponsors, which I would highly appreciate, or she was up all night attending parties for pleasure, which is much more likely. "Eat up, Clove. Wouldn't want to be late to your first day of Training!"

I collapse into the chair next to Cato, who is shoveling grapes into his mouth by the pound. His eyes scan over my body, his eyebrows gradually slanting down into a scowl, as I help myself to a mug filled with crimson juice. "What?" I ask, as his eyes roam over my figure once more. I can feel their heat burning through my clothing. Subconsciously, I bite my lip, fighting down an unwarranted blush.

"What the hell was he thinking?" He's referring Ivor's deliberate choice in size XXS.

I take a moment to discern the expression crossing his face. It's the same expression he wore when he caught Mica and Mauleke in action behind the Centre; an expression I'd rather alleviate before Cato resorts to drastic measures. It's anger. Unadulterated anger. "Cato- it's no matter." I attempt a smile that may or may not turn out to be a grimace. "We both agree that Ivor is an asshole one way or another, and I have to wear it, or else go in the nude. Wouldn't want that."

His irises lighten slightly, despite his furrowed eyebrows. He pulls at his own outfit- black, like mine, but with crimson streaks that rival my gray ones- and grumbles something unintelligible under his breath before indulging in another grape. I breathe a sigh of relief. As usual, his anger tends to wane as quickly as it sparks. There have only been a few instances in which the ire carried him away. One of those instances revolving around Mica.

Cato's first girlfriend.

The girlfriend was quite the surprise- or rather, a surprise we should have expected. Everybody knows that Elisa's first marriage ended up a tragedy; the man, my father's best friend, acted more as a drill sergeant than a father figure, instilling the same message into Cato's head day in and day out: "When you are a man, you will bring pride to your district." Respectable and all, but children in District Two aren't supposed to be introduced to the Games until at least age four, with few exceptions. Cato was learning this at the tender age of two.

Until his father went up and died, leaving Cato man of the house. He grew up too fast. They accepted him into the Centre at age seven, where he learned how to run and climb and handle a sword and beat up kids three years his elders. He confided in me (his friend from childhood) when times were harsh, but I, myself, wasn't prone to giving advice. By the time Elisa introduced him to his soon-to-be-stepfather, there was no turning back. Cato was a man, and Cato was to do things men did; therefore, Cato was to choose himself the first of a lengthy line of blonde bimbos to be his "girlfriend." Mica was the lucky one. Mica, daughter of Mick and Malone, of the highest class District Two had to offer.

To this day, the snooty bitch lives with her mommy and daddy in their own little town they call Sixteen.

Mica, all of thirteen (and two years older than Cato, no less), taught him the ropes to a relationship, but apparently he wasn't sufficient enough for her tastes. Unbeknownst to Cato, he began to seek refuge in a certain Mauleke Winters. Cato and I were taking the shortcut behind the Centre when we caught them making out in some corner or another. The look on Cato's face… I'd never seen anything like it, and doubt I ever will again: a mixture of heartbreak and bafflement and rage and disappointment. He didn't move, so I did. I drove a killer uppercut to Mica's nose- which has never been the same since- but Mauleke Winters escaped unharmed.

Afterward, I consoled Cato, who, after some time, assured me he was all right and that he never liked the bitch anyway. But I was wrong in letting it go, because the next day, a thirteen-year-old boy by the name of Mauleke Winters was found dead in the alleyway behind the Centre.

You can't blame me for laughing.

Shaking my head to clear the memories, I reach toward the fruit bowl and grab what Amber says to be a pomegranate. I'm instructed to consume the arils, and find them to be delicious, although not completely worth the effort of extracting them. However, Amber announces that the white membrane is toxic, Evilian scoffs, and I'm not sure what to think, so I take care to avoid the stuff.

Every once and a while, I catch Cato's gaze raking over my body, observing him in my peripheral vision. The analysis causes me to shift uncomfortably, hands clenching around my water glass while my stomach turns. I long for a knife to sever the tension, but they took away my satchel and the key to 18L while I was sleeping on the train, and there aren't any knives easily accessible to the likes of me, since the government is paranoid enough to refrain from giving us steak knives. Fuck every Avox everywhere. And the government, too.

"So," Evilian's terse interjection interrupts the silence, "I believe that you've been taught how to intimidate the tributes and whatnot, so I'll make this short: don't make mistakes. Strategy is crucial to your survival, despite the fact that half of District Two's Victor population won out of sheer strength." She sniffs condescendingly, as if considering herself superior to those who prefer brawn over brains. Not to say she was meek- I remember Evilian's Games vividly, and her accuracy with the short sword was astounding, granting her four kills to boot. "…Mistakes are not part of your strategy, and if they turn out to be, the intimidation factor will decrease."

I roll my eyes. "As though that isn't obvious."

She glares at me over her glass of champagne. I find it curious how she never seems remotely tipsy, even after five or so glasses of the stuff. Maybe her body's grown immunity. Maybe her brusque speech and stern gaze are offsets of being inebriated. Maybe she appears completely coherent when she's drunk as a boiled owl (as Enther would say, in all his foolishness). Maybe I'll never know. "I think you are only taking childhood mistakes into consideration. A slip of the hand is one thing," she scowls, "but a spur-of-the-moment brawl in front of a legion of Gamemakers is another. There's only one rule in Training, and it'd do you good to respect that."

We nod, although I note Cato's nod to be hesitant. Personally, the instruction is simple enough; I'm prone to lose my temper, but I in no way compare to the human grenade sitting to my left.

Amber eventually announces that she's been invited to a sponsorship brunch with a wealthy couple new to the funding field, and instructs Benjamin to escort us down to Training. Benjamin narrows his eyes a meagre fraction in what I assume to be annoyance, but consents to fill the role as our personal chauffeur. Not that our supervision is necessary, but I suppose it's all for formality's sake. Tradition. It's a concept I know well.

I slip into the lift, the two men lumbering in behind me. When the lift's doors close on our faces, I catch a glimpse of Amber's permanently bubbly smile morphing into a look of relief, while Evilian remains as stony-faced as ever. They're glad to be rid of us. Cato and I are a burden, restricting them from going about their ways. Respectively, I know they'd rather be gossiping, drinking, and devouring pastries.

But I don't give a damn what they desire as long as they deign to carry their burden.

When the lift's doors open once more, we are met with the sight of a room larger than our entire Centre back home. And yet it isn't daunting- it's exhilarating, knowing I will be Training in a place as grand as this. The colour scheme reminds me of my ill-fitting Training uniform, consisting of grays and silvers and midnight-black. Weapons line the walls, gleaming stunningly, giving me the impression that they're pristine as the compartments of the Remake Centre. Scattered about are our targets, both traditional and humanoid, constructed out of multiple materials. Steel bars and cables crisscross the ceiling, accompanied by hanging blocks of fluorescent lights.

The Gamemakers- or else, I assume them to be Gamemakers, judging by their position on the balcony and their luxurious violet robes- sit regally in their chairs, their gazes turned towards the lifts. Our lift.

I let a feral grin take my lips, my opportunity to play mind games finally arriving. I restrict myself from staring in their direction, knowing ignorance is the ultimate solution to gaining attention. It'll get them thinking. Your typical wimp of a tribute obviously spares the Gamemakers a few frightened glances, before staring intently at their feet; your typical bodybuilder of a tribute tends to gaze back defiantly, sizing up the people that will henceforth control their fate, like Cato is doing. With avoidance, I can silently communicate my objective: to be moderately mysterious. And yet this communication will slip the majourity of their minds, as it does the unintelligent.

Of course, I don't waste my time in diverting my attention. Instead, my attention finds the few that have arrived before our timely entrance. I recognise One, Four, and the female tribute from Five- Seven is also here, cowering in a corner. I size up Glimmer, whom I lovingly called a "slut" just last evening. I'd pay to get another chance, but turns out I won't have to, as long as she makes it into the pack. And she qualify, just like the rest of the blonde bimbos became Cato's toys all in due time.

I begin to step forward, intent on exiting the lift, but Cato presses a hand to my chest. My stomach erupts at his touch, and I close my eyes briefly before attempting to process why he won't allow me to depart. Benjamin, from behind us, looks as confused as I. But the scene continues to play out, and as the lift's doors begin to close, Cato stretches out his arms and catches the doors, pushing them open with a single thrust.

I almost laugh, eying the veins that pop out of his muscular arms from the strain. I duck underneath his left arm and slip into the company of Districts One and Four, turning to watch as he steps through the lift doors and they close with a bang in front of Benjamin's (smiling?) face. Internally, I grin. If Cato wants to put on a show, why doesn't he? Probably an overused display of strength here in Training, but hey, if it works for you, go ahead.

Works for Cato all right.

The boy from One- Marvel, I vaguely remember- performs a surveillance of my XXS-clothed figure, seeing as I've turned up right next to him. "Stylist issues?" He drawls lazily, almost with boredom.

"What's it to you?" I glower.

"Nothing," Marvel says, his grin suddenly genuine. "You'll have to understand I tend to hang with the sort of women you'd dub as whores, so considering how judgmental you are of Glimmer, I'll take for granted that you'd be uncomfortable in something she would wear. Such as this atrocious uniform. Hence my question about stylist issues. You'll also have to understand that I've raised my standards, and you meet none of the criteria I'd look for in a promising woman, unlike District Four over there-" he jabs a finger in the direction of said girl, who is standing dangerously close, but is too immersed in conversation with her partner to overhear, "-so don't assume that I'm interested in molesting you or whatever."

I'm nearly speechless at his blatancy. Nearly, but not entirely. "Well, that's reassuring," I reply, raising an eyebrow and furthermore engaging him in an unrelenting handshake. "It's Clove." I see him wince at my grip, but not enough to be dubbed unworthy of my acknowledgement.

"Marvel. I offer my condolences."

There's no admitting that I like the guy already- and I do, despite knowing he's your average spoilt District One male whose destiny is either to die in the Games or inherit his daddy's perfume company. (He's not Victor material, so the former is reduced to the only option.)

Cato and I are ushered towards a folding table covered in stray pins and cloth numbers. "D2" is attached to my back by a man who is unabashedly peering over my shoulder at my chest. As soon as the last pin is in place, I subtly bring my heel back and kick him in the groin before striding away and rejoining the circle. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch the man as he makes a hasty exit, and then snicker as a few Districts enter the gymnasium from the lifts, shooting weary looks at us self-proclaimed "Careers."

Personally, I don't think we're doing a decent job of intimidation. District Four has yet to talk to us, despite Marvel's fascination with the girl, so I'm afraid it looks as if we've failed to include a major asset. Additionally, while I stand in between Cato and Marvel, who are the epitome of regal, Glimmer is chattering away at the latter's other side. "So," she pipes, leaning across Marvel to make eye contact with Cato whilst flipping her hair, "are we doing the alliance thing?"

"That depends," I reply stiffly, before Cato has the chance to open his mouth, "if you are adept enough at weaponry."

"I was talking to Cato," she says dismissively, her nose upturning in my presence. "And besides, I'd bet a hundred sesterces I'm more qualified than the likes of you."

I snort. She's Mica all over again; holding herself above those who forego flaunting their wealth or have no wealth to speak of, considering herself better than those of more minuscule height or beauty, underestimating talent by assumption. The two girls would become fast friends, seeing as they're both superficial and bitchy. (Unfortunately, recruit or not, Glimmer won't be making it out of the arena, if I have any say in the matter.)

Gradually, the Districts trickle in. Thresh Falore from Eleven avoids our contemplative stares, his eyes only for his literally dagger-sized district partner (it's evident any of her competitors could pick her up and throw her across the room without straining a muscle). The cripple, despite a pathetic entrance, pastes on a stoic expression. The girl from Six shrinks under our gaze, her skin sallow with obvious morphling abuse. I force back a shudder, wondering if she was born addicted or if the introduction occurred later on. I, for one, am lucky the morphling didn't affect me in the womb. My mother's calm exterior during her Game's closure was a fictitious ploy- she was heavily sedated from the moment she entered the removal hovercraft, when she dropped the act and began to violently murder a plethora of Peacekeepers. I remember overhearing a conversation concerning this, when I was but three. "I did it for Venom," she said. "I did it for Venom." Needless to say, the morphling shots became self-inflicted and ceased to cease.

Front and centre of my vision, Cato shuffles his feet uncomfortably. The movement catches my eye, and I transform my blush into a glower, gravity forcing the daggers in my eyes to fall to my feet. He's caught me staring in a moment of vulnerability. But the question does not concern my vulnerability; it concerns why he would be my chosen target. The eruption in my stomach has returned and I attempt to ignore the feeling, pressing my hand to my abdomen. He's my best friend; nothing more, nothing less. Why am I glowering at the floor?

He leans towards me. My breath catches. "On the rag, Clovie?" He whispers conspiratorially in my ear, eyes directed to the hand on my stomach.

I look up sharply, my face snapping in his direction. He knows very well that I'm not receiving pills from the Centre anymore, and the Capitol hasn't provided me with anything related to the cause. I have, actually, fretted over this dilemma- and isn't it considerate of him to rub it in my face? "Shut the fuck up- no!" I exclaim, seething and ultimately putting him in headlock.

As usual, Cato cannot work his way out of the headlock, but manages to tuck his chin inside my arm just enough to grant him a moderate amount of breathing room. I reluctantly let him go when, approaching my peripheral vision, a party of Peacekeepers led by a dark-skinned woman venture toward us. Evilian's warnings board my train of thoughts, and I blanch as I realise I've already broken the Gamemaker's one and only rule. To make up for it, I flash Cato a smile, checking to make sure the Gamemakers are watching. He rubs the side of his neck, a temporary look of confusion crossing his features.

The dark-skinned woman halts before our circle, surveying us closely. Her lips purse immediately after she processes Distrct Twelve's absence. Apparently, they've made the decision to arrive fashionably late. An unwise choice.

As if on cue, the lift's doors open one more, emitting a gray-eyed woman and her counterpart, who resembles a puppy as he trails her towards the table coated in a plethora of pins. I stifle a snicker as I observe their clothes- identical, unlike anyone else's- but the smirk dies as I remember my clothing option isn't much better. Instead, I go for a sneer, and paste it on just as Katniss and Peeta take their places in the semi-circle. The Girl on Fire meets my gaze for a millisecond, her expression cold. Maybe I've underestimated her. Then again, she's from District Twelve.

The dark-skinned lady steps forward. Her lips aren't pursed any longer, but her expression remains grim. She introduces herself as Atala, the Head Trainer. I can't help but compare her to Head Trainer Locke back in the Centre; she seems formidible, moreso than he, despite being Capitolite. Her body displays no visible altercations, and her muscle tone is well-defined. She is superior to us, and she knows it, head held high.

"In three weeks," she begins, her voice rich, "twenty-three of you will likely be dead, and only one of you will be alive." Atala continues by offering advice and statistics, explaining the one and only rule, and furthermore proceeding to read out the stations. I keep my ears open particularly for the variety of weapons they house, and am slightly disppointed when the majouroty of them turn out to be generic. There are a few exceptions, of course- the trident, available after Finnick Odair's Games fourteen years ago; the kama, which I take great pleasure in seeing, as I've used them before (specifically in martial arts sparring sequences); a couple of blowguns, popular even after nearly two and a half decades; and even a selection of stilettos- which are a type of knife, not a shoe, regardless of Amber's proclamations.

When we are dismissed to any station of our choosing, Cato and I part ways. He naturally gravitates towards an area clustered with swords galore, while I make my way over to the knife station. A male Trainer with pasty skin and watery green eyes gives me a nod. "What setting?" He asks, pointing to a screen displaying the numbers one through twelve, as though I'm visually impaired.

"Maximum," I reply curtly, turning to face a silver rack of knives and daggers. Close observation delivers the information that they resemble snowflakes; no two weapons are alike. Some serrated, others smooth. One large, one small. Differing in color, material, bluntness... the list could go on. I smile to myself.

"Maximum?" The watery-eyed Trainer asks, incredulously. "Are you sure? There's high risk of injury when beginning with the maximum setting. Why don't you work up to it?"

My smile morphs into a glare, and the man sighs after a brief moment, holding up his hands. "Don't say I didn't warn you." The Trainer then tosses me a vest and arm bands, which will undeniably be provided at the Cornucopia during the Games, so it won't hurt donning them during Training to store a supply of knives. However, as I secure the vest around my skin-tight Training outfit, I mourn the loss of my satchel. Why must they have taken my favourite possession from me? I'm left with nothing but a measly bottle on a string.

Once I've selected my knives from the rack, tucking them in my vest and arm bands and combat boots, the Trainer directs me into a room with hundreds of cables running across the ceiling and glass walls that will allow other tributes to gaze at me in all my glory. He motions for me to stand in the center of the room, provides me with instructions, and then exits. I watch, out of the glass walls, as he walks toward the screen with the numbers on it, and then deftly taps the number "Twelve."

A surge of adrenaline rushes through me, igniting every nerve in my body, as sound reverberates througout the room. "Selected: Level Twelve," the disembodied, female voice announces. "Session begins in thirty seconds. Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight..." As the countdown continues, I remove two knives from the vest's interior pockets, weilding them in front of me. I widen my stance and bare my teeth, ready to attack at a moment's notice. When at last, the voice reaches zero, targets rush at me, appearing out of the ceiling and sliding quickly along the cables in my direction. If I don't manage to hit them, dead-centre, then they'll keep rushing at me and knock me over. Guarenteed concussion.

I choose to spare myself the concussion.

A life-sized dummy of a man comes flying at me. With a flick of my wrist, a dagger is cutting through the air, impaling the figure through the forehead. Thump. I pivot on my foot, my next knife already coming in contact with a circular target that "attacked" from behind. Thump. The adrenaline rush keeps me on my toes, and I'm lost in euphoria as the pockets of my vest empty themselves into straw and wood and plaster. But all good things come to an end eventually. The disembodied voice ultimately proclaims the session complete, and the machines shut themselves off, the glass room going still.

When I exit through the glass door- fortified to some extent, I assume, just in case someone's knife went haywire- a vast majourity of the tributes are staring at me, open-mouthed. They've encountered quite the spectacle, judging by the multiple dropped jaws. I let myself smirk, approaching the watery-eyed Trainer.

"Are you positive there is no higher setting?" I ask him sweetly, and just for laughs, attempt to bat my eyelashes rapidly in an imitation of Glimmer. As typical, the imitation fails miserably. I've learnt false expressions; impressions, however...

The man shakes his head. He looks duly impressed, albeit a bit befuddled at the sight of my rapid blinking. "Apologies. I've gotten the request for an upgrade before, but the Gamemakers turned down my petition. Would you like to have another shot?"

I roll my eyes. The Trainer bustles through a doorway labeled "Staff Only" and retrieves my knives, I enter the room once more, and he goes on to help another tribute after pressing the number "twelve." I complete the course five times straight before the dawn of boredom, and then I excuse myself, tossing my vest in a corner and heading in the direction of knife combat. Marvel is there, fighting a Trainer with a bubblegum pink pixie cut. I use the end of my knife to chip off the bronze nail polish Ivor forced me into wearing the previous evening as I await his (clearly inevitable) success.

Bubblegum Hair is pinned to the ground in due time. Marvel jumps down from the ring, sweat causing a few locks of short, wavy brown hair to stick to his forehead. "Clove," he greets. "You were quite the marvel out there."

I raise a brow. "Terrible pun," I reply. "And are you intent on using flattery to get into the alliance?"

"For security," he proclaims. "I'd bet three generations' worth of sesterces that I'm already in this said alliance, but it can't hurt to get on the devil-angel's good side."

"Why, aren't you one cocky bastard. No guarentees that you're in- I'm not the deciding factor." I grin.

"Cato is, presumably?"

I shoot a glance towards the sword station, where Cato weilds a Catana and engages himself in a match with a man of maybe nineteen. The grin dies, and my voice lowers. "If he weren't- say, if you challenged him for head of the alliance- he'd slice off your head without a second thought. Probably not mine, considering, but I don't want to take my chances, and neither should you. Disregarding of our ages." I unveil no more information. He doesn't need to know of our private history; I bear in mind that he could use it against us.

"I didn't consider it for an instant," Marvel agrees. "I know his type."

All other thoughts exit my mind- my face flames with rage when I imagine what he's implying. "Don't you dare compare him to a stereotype," I mutter, fuming. "I was beginning to like you, but you may just ruin it." And then I turn on my heel and storm off before he can get a word in edgewise.

There's about an hour or so left until luncheon, and I spend it making observations, hoping to pick up subtle hints on others' strengths. Glimmer shoots arrows with a flamboyant, lavender bow, her arrows tending to miss their mark. Despite this, I know Cato will fall for her bimbo qualities, like he always has in the past. Some part of me aches, disappointed that I'd fooled myself into thinking Cato would be so isolated in the Capitol he'd turn to his best friend for solace. (Not sexual solace, like the others offer him. I don't desire him. I don't.) Regardless, I should have expected the female from District One to come into play.

My focus drifts. The tributes from District Four have spent their mornings bent over a flickering fire. At this rate, they mean nothing to me- both seem disinterested in the Career alliance, although the girl looks to have enough strength to qualify. The boy, however, is a dwarf in her presence. Never mind Cato's. I truly feel for Finnick Odair- must suck to mentor a tribute you're positive is going to die. Nearby, Thresh Falore swings a scythe, and he's good, too. Careers don't typically recruit Eleven, but to have the man as an adversary would be unwise. Should I be defenceless, he'd snap me like a twig. The fire-haired girl from Five is hunched over in a corner, in deep discussion with a petite boy whom wears overlarge glasses. I think he's District Three, but I can't be sure, not having seen every Election. I wonder what they're strategising.

Katniss Everdeen has shot thirteen longing gazes at the archery station in the past minute. I snort. She's an open book.

By the time my boredom has grown into desperation, a bell tolls, signaling the end of morning Training and the beginning of luncheon. I fall into step beside Cato, who wipes beads of sweat off of his shining forehead with a white cloth loaned to him by a Trainer. His skin has a way of setting off his icy irises. "It feels really damn good to get my hands back on a sword." he exclaims, miming swinging his Catana. "Spear, too. I've been experiencing withdrawal." I nod along, commenting on the variety of knives at the throwing station. He makes a witty remark about my performance. I elbow him in the side. Just like old times, really.

The cafeteria is a small room branching out from the Training gymnasium, with carpeted floor, eighteen circular tables, and a lengthy buffet at one end. The moment he eyes the food, I can tell Cato is a goner. He grows hungry after any form of exercise. I'm nowhere near famished, myself, and settle for an orange sitting in a crystal bowl on our chosen table. Once Cato sits down, holding a platter heaped with meat of all kinds, Glimmer deposits herself in his lap, foregoing even fruit. Marvel slides in beside me and takes a large bite of his pork sandwich.

After a moment in which I look anywhere but at the slut and her victim, Marvel and I make eye contact. He gestures in their direction. "Amusing," he says, "but I'm not one to favour PDA."

I finish off my orange, which was so delicious I have to have another. I dig my fingers violently into the peel, ripping it off in a single motion. "You a hypocrite?" I inquire.

"Nah. I might succumb to infatuations, and I always like to have something pretty to stare at, but I prefer privacy to publicity."

I shrug, but watch for a few minutes as Marvel gives the pair before us an appraising gaze, with slightly forlorn connotations. He isn't aware that I decipher this, but if he cared to survey my smirk, he'd realise my intentions. The boy is destined to die, but I like him well enough to give him hope, even if I'm fifty percent sure the girl from Four isn't interested in an alliance. Out of my peripheral vision, she holds an animated conversation with miniature Krill, her cerulean blue eyes blazing. Before me, the bowl of fruits is devoid of oranges. I have a plan. "We seem to be out of oranges," I announce, turning to Marvel once again. "Would you assist me in my kleptomaniac tendencies?"

He's all for it. I brace myself to spare a glance at Cato, who turns out to be running his hands through Glimmer's impeccable ringlets absentmindedly, as she coos in his ear. The words residing on the tip of my tongue drift away, and I stand up abruptly, fixing my frown into a sneer. I place a hand over the knife that I used to chip off my nail varnish earlier, and Marvel subtly steals Cato's steak knife, hiding it from view of the handful of Peacekeepers watching over the cafeteria. We proceed to stalk off to one of the outer tables, where the boy from Eight sits alone.

"Your fruit bowl," I command, holding out a hand. The boy recoils at our presence, terror seeping into his eyes. He's cowardly enough to give up his bowl of fruit without protest- I categorize him as a bloodbather. Needless to say, we move on to the cripple, who provides a little more entertainment.

"Why should I give up any portion of my meal to those who aren't worthy of it?" The boy from Ten counters, casually lifting a butter knife from its restingplace on the table. "From what I observe, you have plenty already." However, he succumbs when I lift my own knife to his neck for a millisecond, claiming I won't hesitate to wipe out any compitition before the Games if I'm given the opportunity. I can tell he attempts to read my expression, to call out my bluff, but can't pull away the façade. Clove: 1, Cripple: 0. Although I will give him some credit. He's attempting to preserve his life, despite his determination being his only means of drive.

We go from table to table, snagging fruit bowls and depositing them in our own designated area. Marvel and I treat it as a sort of game, chuckling madly to each other after every run. The Peacekeepers don't disturb us, for reasons unknown- maybe they're enjoying the show, however childish. Anyhow, after we've covered nearly half the room, I discover a clear shot towards my main goal, and utilise it. Taking Marvel's wrist, I drag him towards the infamous tributes from District Four, disregarding of his protests.

"Give it over," I tell the girl cooly, gesturing for her to place the bowl in my hands. She isn't Glimmer, but she's got quite a few assets, her black hair offsetting her cerulean irises, freckles dotting her nose. She's approximately Marvel's age; seventeen or eighteen. I understand the basis of his infatuation.

District Four looks the two of us over, her focus resting on Marvel. "I know you don't want the fruit," she says, directing this to Marvel. "You want me in the alliance, should I display interest in joining and an impressive profession- particularly weapon-based."

She's read the situation more quickly than I anticipated. "That's one way to put it," I say. "And considering your choice to play with fire all morning, I can't guarentee anything."

"Clove," Marvel says. He's fiddling with the steak knife, an unreadable expression taking over his features. His eyes are daggers.

The girl from Four looks up at me calmly, and I ignore Marvel, ears open wide. "Sorry to burst any bubbles," she announces, "but for the time being, I'm not interested." Her words turn heads. The curly-haired boy next to her looks up from his meal, shocked. Marvel is adept at wiping his face of emotion. I am nonplussed.

"Then we'll kill you."

My words echo like a church bell's final toll. She processes them, and then cocks her head to the side, with a contemplative expression. "He won't, will he?" A long finger, the nail polished with ocean-blue lacquer, points in Marvel's direction. His façade dissolves abruptly, the steak knife clattering to the ground as Marvel promptly exits the cafeteria.

I smile, my eyes cold. "He won't, but I will. That is, if you refrain from displaying adequate skills or profess no desire for inclusion. As of now? I'd watch your back, District Four." I turn away, my hands devoid of fruit, my smirk present, and my displeasure disguised.

"It's Marina," she calls out.

"What?" I swivel around, arching an eyebrow.

"The name's Marina," she says. "And tell Marvel Blithe I think he's handsome, would you?"



Mauleke- Derives from the word "maul."

Mica- A form of sheet silicate mineral.

Marina and Krill- Should be self-explanatory. I used Marina's name after reading "Silent Fight" by QuikChik, which struck me with sudden inspiration. Krill, on the other hand, is named after tiny plankton, seeing as he's a shrimp of a boy.

"sesterces"- sesterces were how people were monetarily compensated back in Ancient Rome. Credit goes to Oisin55, who uses the word in his works on Fanfiction (which I highly recommend).

Blithe - Casual or indifferent, in a cheery sort of way.

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